Commentary: Nonprofit boards should have a Plan B

Gene Takagi, Nonprofit Law Blog, 7/11/12

Change is neither necessarily good nor bad. It's just inevitable. But as board members, we have the ability (and the duty) to influence whether changes to our organizations will be to their advantage. Still, there are common barriers preventing boards from dealing with change.  First, there is the question of why we should change anything if everything seems to be going well? This is a great question to consider at a board meeting. Some of the reasons that may come up:

  • Our environments are changing, our stakeholders are changing, and what has worked well in the past may not work as well in the future.
  • We may not be at all certain that we are maximizing our effectiveness and efficiency at furthering the mission.
  • We may need to assess or reassess our focus on short-term versus long-term goals or vice versa.
  • An opportunity or threat may have been identified that can be exploited, managed or mitigated if addressed in a timely manner.
  • We are already constantly changing; we need to recognize what is changing and how to manage all these changes to our best advantage.

Second, there are the fears associated with change. These may include the fear of:

  • Screwing up and facing the criticisms that follow.
  • Hurting existing programs and their beneficiaries.
  • Overcoming the will of a vocal champion of the status quo (or board bully).
  • Personally taking on too much work.

So, how should boards move forward and what additional information will they need? Here are some quick tips for approaching these difficult questions:

  • Dedicate a meeting to focus on change.
  • Use a facilitator.
  • Start with an ad hoc committee.
  • Create multiple scenarios and make it a game with teams advocating for various competing plans.

Commentary: Actors should have a Plan B

William Powell,'s Actor Advice blog, 8/26/11

How many times have you heard it said that actors shouldn't have survival jobs? That actors should bravely face the hard, cold world of auditioning with their headshot in one hand and their steely determination in the other -- with no safety net beneath them.  I'm here to poke holes in that notion. Study a number of star actors and you will find that, despite their pronouncements, they did have a plan B to follow had their performing careers faltered.  Denzel Washington famously said that if young actors have to fail, they should "fail forward." Inspiring words, but Washington studied journalism at Fordham University. Had his career not exploded into mega-stardom, maybe he'd be a reporter at the E! Channel today.  Gunslinging character actor Lee Van Cleef made his living as an accountant (An accountant!) before his boss fired him so he could audition on Broadway. Did you know Rodney Dangerfiled sold aluminum siding, concurrently appearing on "The Ed Sullivan Show"? He'd make a sale, then sit with his client and watch himself on TV!  Sometime it's easy to forget that famous actors come from the real world and that every life experience they have nurtures their acting abilities. So go out and live a full life; and don't quit your day job -- yet.


Commentary: "Having a Plan B is highly overrated"

Bryan Reeves, Managing The Music blog, 1/29/12 

I'm not your typical artist manager. And this isn't to boast; in fact, by most measures it's kinda crazy what I've chosen to do. For the last 5 years, I have exclusively managed Here II Here. Now, as [the group] recently broke up, I'm exclusively managing main songwriter/vocalist, Ash Ruiz. From most perspectives, what I'm doing would be considered to be pretty unwise. I'm not at all diversified. I've spent the last 5 years throwing in my lot with only one group of artists. I've had other artists ask me to manage them. Somehow, though, it just doesn't feel right for me. No other artist has connected with me like this one. No other opportunity has so firmly gripped me by my entire being, so deeply inspired my imagination, so convincingly compelled me to employ all my resources in its service.

 Sure, I've thought about a Plan B. I've fantasized how a Plan B would bring me more security, more money, more certainty, more companionship.  When Here II Here broke up, I wasn't quite sure what life would look like after that. And I didn't have a Plan B for that happening. When it did happen, I essentially allowed it to happen with minimal resistance. I took time, waiting for life to show the way. And life always shows the way.   I've spent most of my considerable savings walking this path. I'm incredibly talented (and clearly modest) and could make a lot of money working for someone else.  But I learned a long time ago you can't pay me enough to be miserable. I would rather take on the challenge of learning how to create abundance doing what I absolutely love, than the challenge of learning how to love what I despise but that simply makes me money. So I still don't have a Plan B. I'm all in. Plan B will show up if it ever needs to. The funny thing is, though, there is only always Plan A. When this current Plan A comes to its natural conclusion, a new Plan A will show up. It will almost certainly look completely different from anything I could even possibly imagine right now. Five years ago, when I finally grew out of my previous career as a PR spokesperson for an international company, managing transformational music artists definitely wasn't in any of my Plan B-Z ideas. That's because it was simply the next Plan A. I only needed to say yes!


Commentary: "Life as an artist is easier if you only have a Plan A"

Alison McGhee, Walker Arts Center's Family Business blog, 3/26/12

You're thinking about a workshop you taught.  The writers were talking about how to make a life as an artist. The conversation shifted to Plan B, the backup plan for when things don't go the way you want them to.  "Screw Plan B!" one of them said. "It seems to me that if you have a Plan B you're going to end up following Plan B and be guaranteed failure. Why not go for Plan A and at least know you tried?"  He was laughing, but you knew he was dead serious. "I never had a Plan B," you heard yourself say, and you realized only then that it was true. Yes. You knew that, from early on, you wanted only to write a book, a beautiful book. In that same moment, sitting there listening to your students, you realized that life is easier if you only have a Plan A. It makes prioritizing easy. Whatever you want to do -- whether it's write a beautiful book or paint an astonishing painting --means that the book or the painting will always be the highest priority.  First comes the Plan A, then comes everything else. Whatever job you take to support the plan will be secondary to the plan. If you have children, you'll figure out how to keep writing when you have them. Even if you're not a good writer, that won't stop you. You'll keep at it until you slowly get better. Because what other choice do you have? There's nothing to fall back on, if you have no Plan B. "Easy for you to say," someone once said to you, after you told her you were pretty sure you would be writing even if you never published anything, "because you have published things." That kind of remark makes you go instantly quiet. It seems so rude to respond to it. And the further truth, which is that you never think about the things you've published, also seems rude. But it's the truth. Anything published is behind you, and you only look ahead. All you want is to write that beautiful book, and you haven't done it yet. The fact that you have not yet accomplished your goal also makes life easier. You don't have to look around and think, now what? You don't have to try to come up with a new plan, because the first plan is still operational. It's a dream that's still being realized.

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